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Build a Recycling Program with Lynda Boomer

Energy and Environmental Engineer, Physical Plant Department
Michigan State University

Lynda Boomer

Lynda Boomer
Energy and Environmental Engineer, Physical Plant Department
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Mich.

What were the two-three most important considerations in establishing Michigan State’s recycling program two years ago? 
Move Michigan State University (MSU) to a position of leadership regarding environmental stewardship, collect materials more efficiently and collect materials that have a high market value to help payback the recycling facility the university is building.

Michigan State has a goal of doubling and possibly even tripling its recycling rate in the next few years. What steps do you need to take for that growth to happen?
Education and convenience are key. We know the materials are going in the trash now, so we need to make it convenient for people to recycle and provide recycling containers in convenient locations. Then we also need to educate the campus community on what, where and how to recycle. We are in the process of constructing a new surplus store and recycling center that will handle all of the campus waste materials, including e-waste. The capital cost of the new facility is $13 million with a 12-year payback. It is close to 70,000 square feet and includes an education center. 
We operate a transfer station and ship the materials loose in gaylords. Our local outlets are very limited in the types of materials they will take. With our new facility, we will have a sort line and baler to handle larger quantities more efficiently. We also are partnering with our researchers on campus to look at methods to recycle materials, such as using glass in concrete products as aggregate.

What role does the maintenance and engineering department play in helping the university reach its recycling goals?
The department has played a key role in transitioning from an inefficient method of collecting the recyclables to a more efficient method on a building-by-building basis. Custodians are environmental stewards for their buildings, and they provide input on where to place the recycling containers in their facilities to capture the most material. Occupants can easily contact custodians online from each building if they need an extra recycling bin or need one serviced. The engineering department has helped by revising the MSU construction standards to include alcoves, or set aside space for recycling containers in new construction. The standards reference Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria to achieve certification. Recycling is a prerequisite in every building.

How does the recycling program affect the way the maintenance and engineering department purchases products and the type of packaging for those products?
Our purchasing department has language in its contracts that requires biomass packing material when available. The department tries to specify products with take-back containers for refilling where it makes economic sense and when it is easier for maintenance to handle larger containers. Also, when ordering items such as office furniture, purchasing requires blanket wraps instead of cardboard to reduce waste.

How does your program address discarded electronics?
The surplus store handles all e-waste. Workers clear the hard drives and resell the non-obsolete items. The surplus store sends the obsolete machines to a recycling vendor that dismantles the machines and recycles the reusable materials. The hazardous waste is handled by the vendor according to regulations, which usually means it is sent to a hazardous-waste landfill.

posted:  12/8/2008